Tag Archives: business disruption

customer-led disruption

Remaining relevant in the digital age

Novelist William Gibson is credited with saying “the future is already here – it’s just not very evenly distributed”. 

This in a nutshell epitomises the challenge for mature businesses and industries. 

Their possible futures are being played out by the emerging digital versions of their existing selves. Smaller, more nimble competitors built on the infrastructure of tomorrow’s enterprises are using new tools and methodologies to disrupt established players. And they are able to do so unencumbered by legacy systems and processes of larger players.

For many in established businesses it is not a case of if but when in terms of the threat of digital disruption. But the phrase “digital disruption” hides a subtle nuance when discussing disruption in the context of business: disruption is actually a human story, not a tech one. 

Digital services and enterprises on their own do not disrupt established businesses. Rather digital services, technologies and business models enable your customers to disrupt you.

Take for example the rise of marketplace style businesses such as Uber and their impact on the incumbent taxi services. The simple fact of Uber’s existence did not in itself disrupt the taxi industry. But by offering a better customer experience, a more cost effective service and ease of use to the passenger, customer-led disruption was enabled.

If you were to look at the legacy business model for a taxi company in Australia, it focuses on the regulator, the operator and licence holder, and the driver – rarely does the passenger feature. Today, passengers can actively compare their taxi journey experience with that of the Uber model – and customers are voting with their digital wallets.

The key for incumbent large corporations to stay relevant is customer focus. This is not a new mantra – most of my working career has been spent in or working with organisations trying to achieve customer centricity.  What has changed in the last 10–15 years is the realisation that terms such as “customer ownership” are by and large meaningless. Customers are not owned. They are earned and need to be maintained. 

To do this requires an increasing emphasis on data to better understand customers and their needs. It means the use of customer journey mapping tools alongside this data to really explore the customer experience at every single touch point. It means the analysis of ethnographic studies to see how customers use products and services.

Most importantly, organisations need to bring the customer into every stage of the product development process. Old world, business case-driven product development processes need to be replaced with customer data and hypothesis-driven experiments. The product development process needs to include customer testing at every stage, from idea to prototype to final product. And this process needs to allow for customer feedback and for data to drive decision making and change along the journey.

Consumers’ experiences, and hence their expectations, are increasingly being shaped by the proximity, intimacy and aesthetic provided by their day to day interactions with a range of products and services being delivered digitally. Whether it is the beautiful simplicity of the Google search bar, the elegance of Apple design or the magic of Disneyland – the benchmark on customer experience – attraction and retention is being set globally. As a result, the customer experience needs to be judged not just against best in class for a particular industry or product segment, but against best in class – full stop.

Market leaders today who survive well into the future will look across industries in their response to digital disruption and adapt and change to the new, unevenly distributed future.

James Mabbott

KPMG partner and Head of KPMG Innovate

Read next: PwC’s Technology Innovation Leader, Dr Crighton Nichols, describes the tools that allow forward-thinking organisations to learn faster than their competitors. 

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Founders fuelled by STEM

As a full time angel investor and venture capital investor I spend a considerable amount of my time meeting with founders from all walks of life. Ten years back that group would have largely consisted of a few random, risk-taking entrepreneurs and a bunch of computer science grads punching out code. My, how times have changed.

In this current “Innovation Era” it seems the whole world is seeking to get digital and disrupt something. The backgrounds, skills and mindsets in the startup scene are now far more diverse… and what a huge asset that is to the local ecosystem and future of innovation in Australia.

Most comforting to me over the past few years has been the increasing number of founders I’ve encountered from some formal STEM background that’s not just computer science, and how they are putting their ideas to the test. Diversity of thinking, ideas and actions seems to be the DNA of a healthy ecosystem. If we are to create a vibrant, sustainable innovation ecosystem in Australia then we must promote this sort of risk taking through academia and into commercialisation programs.

On a recent tour of Silicon Valley with the current cohort of the muru D accelerator program from Sydney, I had the pleasure of spending time with the founders of astro-educational startup Quberider and underwater inspections company Abyss Solutions.

“It was a pleasure to see these young STEM professionals stand up, pitch and impress some of the world’s most experienced startup investors with their passion and ideas that have true global application.”

Solange Cunin launched Quberider while still studying a Bachelor of Science and Engineering at UNSW, majoring in aerospace, aeronautical and astronautical engineering. Quberider’s director Sebastian Chaoui is undertaking a Bachelor of Engineering and Mechatronics at UTS, majoring in robotics and automation engineering. Abyss Solutions founder Masood Naqshbandi has a Masters in Materials Chemistry and Photonics from the University of Sydney. His highly qualified team hold a number of PhDs and masters degrees between them.

It was a pleasure to see these young STEM founders stand up, pitch and impress some of the world’s most experienced startup investors with their passion and ideas that have true global application. Their diverse skills, intimate knowledge of their subject matter and practical “can-do” attitudes put them in great stead to impress. So did the experiences they shared visiting one of the leading hubs of global startups and innovation.

If we are to create a truly innovative society in Australia that can help make the world a better place, then we need to foster entrepreneurialism among the excellent talent from our leading universities. Support from corporate incubators and accelerators to share business acumen will further accelerate their success. Supportive global capital will surely follow.

Andrew Coppin

Director, Bardama Startup Fund, Affirmative Investments and Timezone Group International

Read next: Attila BrungsVice-Chancellor and President of UTS, sheds light on how we can equip new generations of graduates with the right skills to compete in a changing global market.

People and careers: Meet graduates and postgraduates who’ve paved brilliant, cross-disciplinary careers here, find further success stories here and explore your own career options at postgradfutures.com

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continuous deployment

Continuous deployment

Imagine you work as a developer for Etsy. In case you haven’t heard of Etsy, it is a marketplace where people around the world connect, both online and offline, to make, sell and buy unique goods. It has 1.5 million sellers, almost 22 million active buyers, and in 2014 it had gross merchandise sales of almost $2 billion. So you could say it’s doing quite well.

Now let’s just say you happen to notice a problem with the Etsy website, or perhaps you think of a way it could be improved. At most organisations you would probably tell your manager about the problem, who would probably tell his or her manager, and after waiting a few weeks you might then get approval to make your desired change. In short, you have very limited ability to make changes you believe are important.

At Etsy it’s a completely different story. When I met up with Chad Dickerson, Etsy’s CEO and chairman, in their Brooklyn offices in New York, he told me that anyone in the team can make a change to the Etsy website whenever they see a need. (Etsy.com had over 40 million unique views per month when we spoke; at the time of writing it has around 60 million.)

‘We do something on the engineering team called continuous deployment’, explains Dickerson. ‘That’s a fancy way of saying that we’ve given every software developer, every product manager the ability to change the site at any time. Back in 2009 when we started this approach, not many companies were doing this. Typically, websites do a release every two weeks. We release or do code deploys about 35 times a day [this has since increased to up to 50 times per day]. The really exciting thing is that there’s no central authority that manages the releases.’

In practice, the developers at Etsy manage the releases with each other. ‘If I’m a developer and I’m making a change to the site, I get into what’s called a push queue. I tell everyone else that I’m about to push code and it’s almost like the whole neighbourhood is watching you’, says Dickerson.

Every single person at Etsy has the ability to do this without explicit approval. It’s very, very decentralised and very, very fast. And if you ever go for a tour around Etsy’s head office in Brooklyn, you will see monitors with all kinds of charts and graphs showing how many code deploys they have done in a day.

Through continuous deployment, the team at Etsy is always experimenting and gathering data. ‘We are able to push things out and test, push things out, test, push things out, test, on a really rapid basis’, says Dickerson. ‘We’re able to learn about products and make changes for the better pretty much constantly. If you have a two-week release cycle, you can only learn new things every two weeks. In our case, you learn something new every 20 minutes, which is really exciting.’

One final key benefit of continuous deployment is that the approach has a bias towards action. In an organisation where releases are done only every couple of weeks, or every month or so, it becomes so easy for someone to suggest improvements and for that suggestion to get lost in the noise. ‘I think when you can deploy code at any time and make a change at any time, it makes it a lot harder to say “We should do this”, because the answer is: ‘just do it’, says Dickerson.

By giving everyone in the organisation the power to make real change, innovation is dramatically enhanced. You might be thinking, ‘There is no way I would trust my team to make changes to a website that is getting 40 million unique views a month’. But think about it from an Etsy developer’s point of view. There is no way they are going to make a change without feeling very confident it will make the website better, because all eyes are on them.

Etsy certainly isn’t the only large web-based organisation that encourages continuous deployment. Vimeo, one of the world’s largest video-sharing websites, has exactly the same policy. Any given day will see over 30 changes deployed to vimeo.com.

‘You can’t keep track of all the pushes that go on because they’re constantly fixing, they’re constantly upgrading. We just try not to do things on Friday afternoons!’ says
 Dae Mellencamp, Vimeo’s president.

The essence of continuous
 deployment is that it grants employees autonomy over their 
work. People have the freedom to fix things that need fixing, and make 
improvements where they see fit.
Continuous deployment doesn’t require managerial approval, nor does it involve a manager simply telling an employee what to do.

continuous deployment

Dr Amantha Imber is the Founder of Inventium, Australia’s leading innovation consultancy.

Find out more about her latest book, the Innovation Formula, here.